With Father's Day within putting distance, it's nearly impossible to tune into the national news without hearing what laid-off dads want. Unfortunately, many of these reports try to shove the wants and needs of unemployed fathers into a neat, little gender-specific box.
Either we're told that men are the new women, content to cook, clean and referee the kids. Or we hear that, despite today's blurring of once-traditional gender roles, deep down, men will be men, emasculated without the ability to play financial provider, adrift and depressed when stripped of their professional identity.
But talk with a dozen-plus unemployed dads as I have this month, and you'll find their stories are far more complex. Their financial situation, marital status, kids' needs and own upbringing have as much to do with how they respond to a layoff as any deep-seated notion about what it means to be a family man.
Sure, there are your retro "men shouldn't have to grocery shop or shuttle the kids to school" guys. But there are also guys who revel in their newfound diaper-slinging status as manny of the house.
"There isn't just one story here," said Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress.
It's too early for any hard data on how the recession may be causing families to redistribute the household labor and what men think of all this, said Boushey, who's studied working families and U.S. labor trends extensively. But, she said, since most men now grow up expecting their partners will work, if a family man gets laid off, "It's not the trauma of the 1950s-style guy."
"There are so many families where it's tough if the man loses his job, but it's not going to be a life-altering role reversal," Boushey said. "Why shouldn't he watch the kids? People do that all the time."
Identity Crisis, Schmidentity Crisis Take Scott Skibell, 46, from Overland Park, Kan., who's been laid off and thrust in the role of stay-at-home dad twice since 2007.
"Two years ago I took a severance package from my then-employer," he said. "I had the best summer ever. My girls were 6 and 8 at the time. We went biking, hiking, canoeing and took several little vacations where they got to go boating, tubing and jet skiing. I was getting paid my regular salary, had full benefits and even had two job offers waiting for me. It was a summer we'll always remember."
Needless to say, his wife, a part-time dental hygienist, was green with envy.
Since getting laid off this February though, things have been very different for Skibell, who's worked in the training industry for nearly two decades. With only a month's severance and his wife working just three days a week, his family's done the requisite belt-tightening. And with no job offers in sight, he's trying to making a go as a home-based consultant -- easier said than done with two young daughters out of school and underfoot for the summer.
But while Skibell would love to see his new financial reality turn around quickly, you won't find him sulking about being knocked off his provider pedestal.
"These days it's not just the male's responsibility," he said. "My wife and I have both worked, and it's more of a partnership. I don't see it as a male-female role. It truly takes two incomes to pay for the insurance, the mortgage, retirement and college."
Happily Housekeeping, But Frazzled by Babysitting